One night, my wife asked me “what are you favorite horror films from each decade?” And before I could even start to answer, she rattled off correct answers for 7 decades. It was impressive. A friend also mentioned it would be neat to see what my favorite horror films are from each decade. So I decided to put this list together for inquiring minds. But this begs the question, how do you determine what your favorite movies are? I will say after looking at this list, the key to me is the desire to rewatch the film repeatedly on my own. There are a lot of movies I get super excited about, and want to show to my friends as soon as possible. The pleasure with those films is seeing a new person react to them. While I would love to show my favorites films to new viewers, these movies stand out because I will have a blast watching them with or without other people. No matter how many times I see them, I always find something new to appreciate. I also tend to still feel residual fear during iconic scenes (e.g. the bathtub scene in The Shining). It is pretty rare for any film to still excite you after seeing it a dozen times, but most of these films still retain that magic. Without further ado, here’s the list:
1920s: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
This is probably a pretty obvious choice.
1930s: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The Bride of Frankenstein edges out Frankenstein and Dracula (both 1931). The humor, visual effects, and inclusion of more of Mary Shelley’s novel make it the winner for me.
1940s: The Seventh Victim (1943)
This is probably the first and only “surprise” on the list. It is very difficult for me to watch anything released prior to Psycho and be affected as a modern viewer. But the very dark ending and themes of this one make it stand out.
1950s: Diabolique (1955)
Although I probably prefer The Bad Seed as a film, I can acknowledge Diabolique is more the through and through horror film. Also, this trailer is amazing:
1960s: Psycho (1960)
No surprises here! Psycho really didn’t have any competition for me with the exception of Night of the Living Dead.
1970s: Suspiria (1977)
Perhaps this is a surprise. The 70s offers a plethora of excellent horror including The Exorcist, Black Christmas, Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But favorite to me typically means what would I watch the most if given the choice? And Suspiria would be the clear winner in that regard with its lean run time and exciting mix of shocks and scares.
1980s: The Shining (1980)
The Shining feels timeless to me but it is an 80s movie. If I was going to select something more evocative of the decade it would be A Nightmare on Elm Street. I also love The Thing, The Blob, and Friday the 13th but The Shining reins supreme if I have to choose.
1990s: Scream (1996)
Scream is an easy winner for the 90s, with Candyman being the only other film I would consider from this decade. Prior to Scream, all horror films I loved had mostly come out before I was even alive. This was really the start of me seeing horror movies as they were released. The opening scene with Drew Barrymore is seared into my brain, and remains one of the greatest horror film moments ever made.
2000s: The Ring (2002)
Here’s a confession. I really like contemporary horror movies. So these last two decades are a little harder to select a favorite from. That being said, The Ring is simply iconic, and one I can’t help but keep coming back to. Some tweens asked for scary movies with ghosts at the library a few weeks ago, and it nearly killed me they hadn’t seen this movie yet.
Again this was a tough decade to chose from for me. I love Paranormal Activity, The Strangers, and Session 9.
2010s: Get Out (2017)
Hereditary, It, and The Final Girls are all fantastic but Get Out is the reason I restarted this blog. It is a fantastically well-crafted movie that takes the horror genre and uses it to breakdown and analyze race relations in the United States. Get Out shows a fresh new potential for a genre which often purposefully and inadvertently becomes a parody of itself.
What are your favorite horror films of each decade? And how choose which films are your favorites? I’d love to hear other people share their lists in the comments.